After days in line, Montreal travellers finally receive appointments for passport renewals

The federal government implemented a new system Wednesday, allowing people to receive appointments, instead of waiting outside for days at a time.

Federal government implements new passport processing system

Hundreds were still waiting outside the Guy-Favreau passport offices Wednesday morning, as the government brought in a new system to clear the queue. (Jennifer Yoon/CBC)

Nelly Kamagou is hoping she can get her and her children's passports before their flight to Cameroon tonight.

It was looking grim, but now she finally has an appointment, after waiting in line outside the passport office at Montreal's Guy-Favreau complex since Monday. 

"I'm feeling better," she said. "I have hope now. I am already inside so ... I am very happy."

Kamagou was one of the hundreds of people who were waiting in line Wednesday morning, the queue snaking around the block, as would-be travellers scrambled to renew their passports.

The federal government put into effect a new system Wednesday in Montreal after Karina Gould, minister of families, children and social development, said the delays at the Guy-Favreau office were the worst in the country.

One by one, those waiting Wednesday morning began to receive tickets with a fixed appointment time, so they could leave and come back with minimal delays.

It felt like the light at the end of the tunnel for some, who have been sleeping outside for days at a time.

But by 9:15 a.m., Service Canada workers said the passport office had reached its capacity for the day and would not schedule more appointments, forcing those waiting in line to return tomorrow.

"I want a bed," lamented Maxime Renaud-Blondeau, who has also been waiting outside since Monday.

He's already missed one flight. He was supposed to be on a plane to Atlanta Wednesday morning. He said if he doesn't get his passport today, he's giving up on his trip entirely.

"I'm just going to say: I'm not going, Mom, I'm not coming," he said.

Before the new system was put in place, those waiting had taken matters into their own hands, implementing their own first-come-first-serve system to keep people from cutting in line. Police were finally called in to take over crowd control.

Police were called again Wednesday, after tensions flared at the news that there were no more appointments. Officers were also called to the passport office in Laval.

Missed flights

Camping overnight outside Guy-Favreau did nothing for Meryem Habibi and her family who missed their flight to Morocco this afternoon. She was in line to renew her daughter's passport, after being unable to get the documents processed since March.

"We hope to enter tomorrow so we're going to stay overnight again," she said. "I already paid $2,400 for each ticket, for a family of four." 

She says Service Canada workers told her months ago the passport "might not get done" so she was better off filing an urgent application 48 hours before the trip. By then, workers told her they were no longer issuing passports for requests made 48 hours before departure dates and said she should file another last-minute application, 24 hours before her flight. 

Lack of planning

Gould told reporters Tuesday that more than 500 people are lined up outside passport offices in Montreal. 

"I spoke to the regional manager from Quebec who assured me that each of the Service Canada managers and their teams are continuing to speak with people in line and making sure they're being triaged as necessary," she said. 

The system implemented in Montreal — where Service Canada managers greet those waiting early in the morning and provide them with a ticket — was already in place in other passport offices in Canada, including the greater Toronto area and in Vancouver, Gould confirmed.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet said the federal government should consider compensating people who suffer financial losses due to the processing delays and urged the prime minister to display a "minimum of compassion" for those still waiting. 

"I can't believe thousands of people would swallow damage caused precisely by the government's lack of basic planning," he said. 

With files from Jennifer Yoon, Chloë Ranaldi and Radio-Canada